First Drive: Kia Optima Turbo

Great Car, Strong Power, but no “Wow”

On one hand it was a gutsy move for Kia to offer the new mid-size Optima sedan without an optional V-6 engine, on the other hand it was visionary.? The Toyota Camry has a six-cylinder option, so does the Honda Accord, Ford Focus and all the other competitors in that midsize group.? (Okay, there is one exception, but it?s the Kia?s sibling, the Hyundai Sonata which uses the same engine as Kia.)

The base Optima engine is a 200-horsepower, 2.4-liter gas direct injection (GDI) four-cylinder which is competitive with the other mid-size sedans.? ?The Optima is a little quicker (0 to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds) than other four-cylinder mid-level competitors and the fuel economy is an impressive 24 mpg city and 35 mpg on the highway.

The V-6 replacement is the Theta II, a 2.0-liter GDI using a twin-scroll turbocharger to produce 274-hp and 269-lb.ft of torque.? This is the first turbocharged Kia engine and the result is not the typical breathtaking response I have experienced from similar four-cylinder turbo engines used in cars like the Volkswagen/Audi or MazdaSpeed series.? Rather the Kia engine is more refined, but with less performance rush.? It is tuned to act more like a V-6 with strong performance, but no ?Wow? factor.? It produced a very good 6.5-second 0 to 60 mph time and fuel economy nearly as good as the base model at 22 mpg/34 mpg.? That puts the Kia Turbo about in the middle of V-6 competitors in performance, but with a cheaper, lighter, much more efficient powerplant.

Two classic problems with turbocharged cars is turbo lag and torque steer.? The Kia engine has virtually no turbo lag and I had to turn the wheel and accelerate hard to get any hint of the torque steer that often affects many more powerful front-drive cars.? The turbo engine is only available with Kia?s six-speed automatic transmission, which comes with the Sportmatic? manual shifting mode.? The sporty SX model includes wheel mounted paddle shifters.

The turbo engine is available on both the mid-level EX and the sporty SX model.? The EX Turbo has a base price of $25,190 including the destination; that?s $2,000 more than the naturally aspired EX.? The sporty SX model is priced at $26,690, adding 18-inch low-profile tires, HID headlights, LED taillights, leather seating with woven trim and cosmetic enhancements. ?Options for the SX include the Technology Package ($2,000) which adds navigation system, backup camera, premium audio and the Touring Package ($2,150) that includes panorama roof, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats and some great looking wheels. For about $31,000 you get a very good-looking sport sedan wOne of the major appeals of the new Optima is the excellent exterior and interior design which has won high praise from most of the automotive press. ?Pictures of the Optima show a stylish sedan with sweeping roof and high beltline, but it is actually much better looking in person.

The same goes for the interior, which looks busy and cluttered in photos, but once inside, the driver finds well defined work spaces for the various control systems, stitched trim panels and distinctive contemporary styling.

I think Kia is right on target with the Optima turbo, as long as potential buyers don?t go in thinking they are buying a turbocharged racer.? It is a great looking, fun-to-drive sedan with good power and fuel economy, a spacious comfortable interior and it is one of the best values in the middle sedan market.